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The Case of the Man in Iron

Chapter Text

The Case of the Man in Iron

Ch.1: Bringing the Party to You

 

Tony grunts as he takes a hit to the shoulder, the shot stopping him midflight and pushing him sideways through the air. He barely has time to correct the suit’s propulsion when another blast flies passed him, just missing hitting him square in the face plate.

Tony’s repulsor beam catches the WhatthefuckdidThorcallit? in the chest and the creature lets out a gurgled scream as it falls from the light pole it’d been perched on as it took pot shots at him. Tony scans the immediate area for any more of the things, Tarfins, he thinks, then jets towards the river where Natasha and Clint had last radioed in. He reaches their location at the edge of the River Thames, just in time for his metal fist to knock a Tarfin in the back of the head as it leaps for Natasha’s back.

“Anyone else getting tired of Loki’s little party?” he asks as he helps Natasha dispatch of two more of the gray scaled creatures.

“You have a weird definition of what constitutes a party, Stark,” Natasha replies when the area is clear of Tarfins for the moment.

Tony doesn’t flinch as Clint lands next to them with a muffled thud. “At least these party favors aren’t part of an endless space-portal supply,” he says, smirking. He’d been perched on top of a double decker bus, picking off Tarfins as they scattered through the streets of central London. “They’re not as organized either.”

Tony nods as he flips his face plate up. “Agreed. This isn’t Loki’s MO, something’s up,” he says as he taps into the Avengers comm link. “What’s the location on Reindeer Games? Anyone seen him since the bridge?”

“Negative,” Steve replies instantly. “Banner and I are evacuating civilians from the bridge, now. We’ve got a few straggling Tarfins but no Loki.”

“How’s Bruce?” Tony asks with a distracted scowl.  “Any signs of the Big Guy making an appearance?”

“I’m fine,” Bruce answers calmly, and Tony can hear the chastisement in his voice. “Cap’s picking them off before they get anywhere near me…The evacuation’s keeping me focused.”

“Any news on Thor?” Steve asks through the comm and everyone replies in the negative.

Tony shakes his head, wondering out loud what the hell was going on. “There’s something not right here, guys. Since when does Loki drop a bag of crazy on us and not stay for the festivities?”

As usual, Bruce is the first to pick up on his train of thought. “And the way the Tarfins just scattered about the city…like they had no real—“

“—purpose,” Tony cuts in and suddenly it clicks. “This whole damn thing was a distraction,” he growls, pissed because he should have seen it. Should have known, because Loki’s a full tilt diva and if Tony Stark knows anything, it’s the inner workings of a diva. Shit. 

“Seems like they need you more than I do, Cap,” Tony hears Bruce say over the comm link. “I can see to the rest of the evacuation myself, you guys find Loki.” There’s a slight pause before Bruce adds, “Give me a call if you need the other guy.”  

It takes Jarvis two seconds to pull up their coordinates, five seconds for Tony to relay the information, and ten minutes for Steve to reach their location.

“Welcome to the party, Cap,” Clint says from his reacquired perch atop the double decker, eyes and ears tuned in for any unexpected guests.

Natasha glares at the back of Clint’s head as she asks Steve what there next move is. “We have no idea what Loki’s after, where he could possibly be, or if he’s even still in the country. He could be anywhere.”        

“Oh, he’s here,” Tony says. “Loki may be a crazy bastard, but he’s focused, never does anything without purpose. There’s a reason he chose London for the backdrop of this little freak show.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Steve says, making Tony smirk. “Whatever Loki has planned, it has something to do with this area. Stark, can you ask Jarvis to do a search on any major events going on in the city today?”

“Already on it,” Tony replies instantly. “And kudos, by the way, on finally arriving to the twenty-first century. Those computer classes must be—Goddamnit, I know where he is.”

“Share with the rest of the class, Mr. Stark,” Natasha says. “What’s going on?”

Tony sighs, loud enough to be heard over the comm and says, “Parliament’s in session.”

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Tony’s the first to arrive, flying ahead of the others who have commandeered a civilian car. He cuts the propulsion jets in his boots and lands with a heavy, metal thud on the cobblestone in front of the Palace of Westminster, home to the two houses of the English Parliament. The chaos that surrounds him isn’t surprising, but it makes Tony curse anyway.

 “Get a move on it, guys,” he says into the comm link. “Loki’s already started playing.”

Men and women pour out of the building in a thick, jostling current of screaming panic and Tony has to take flight again to keep from being over-run by the frantic crowd. Fuck, Tony thinks as he scans the ground below him. There’s no way they’d be able to find Loki in this mess, not if he’s wearing any concealments. And if he’s still inside? Westminster Palace is massive and they don’t have the numbers to secure every exit before Loki has the chance to escape. He’s about to suggest they call Bruce in to help with the search when something flashes in his left peripheral.

Tony turns in the air and looks up, and then does a double take, because Loki is scaling Big fucking Ben like a goddamn monkey and Tony doesn’t have time to think anymore as he tells Jarvis to push thrusters to one hundred percent. He’s got just enough time to let the others know the situation before he reaches the clock face where Loki stands on the workers’ ledge, waiting for him.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the Iron Man,” Loki says with a smirk. “What took you so long?”

Tony steps cautiously onto the ledge, left gauntlet raised and the palm of his glove glowing hotly, ready to let loose a repulsor blast at the first sign of attack. “What’s the matter, Loki,” Tony says, “Us Americans not good enough for you anymore?”

Loki smiles as he takes a step backwards along the ledge. “I can’t give you lot all of my attention, now can I? Besides,” he says, fingering the crystal head of the staff he holds, “Parliament’s vaults hold such interest—“

Tony cuts him off with a blast that hits Loki in the shoulder, almost knocking him off the ledge. Tony expects a retaliatory attack but what he’s not expecting is how fast it happens—Loki hasn’t even regained his balance from being hit—or the overwhelming smell of burnt marshmallows as whateverthefuck it is that Loki fires from his nifty new toy hits Tony directly in the center of the suit’s arc reactor.

There’s a series of snap, crackle, and pops as the burnt marshmallow smell intensifies, and through the flickering screen of his face plate Tony sees Loki’s eyes stare at him wide eyed, and Tony thinks that whatever Loki had expected to happen, this certainly isn’t it. Tony can hear the others through the comm link, knows they’re asking him what the situation is even though most of it isn’t getting through over the static charged airwaves. Even Jarvis’s voice is too garbled to understand, and the data on his screens are fluctuating too much to make any damn sense.

Loki’s still staring at him but there’s a look in his eyes now, then the briefest flicker to the right, and Tony knows Loki is calculating the risks of jumping off the ledge just to get away from him. Every inch of Tony’s skin erupts in goosebumps as he realizes that Loki is looking at him with fear in his eyes.

Tony shouts at Loki, but the, now visibly panicking, god doesn’t respond to his words. Tony realizes his helmet’s comm system must be down so he flips the face plate up. Loki’s eyes are instantly fixed to his face and Tony is shouting again, “What the hell did you do?”

At the sound of Tony’s voice, Loki’s eyes jerk down to stare at the staff in his hand. “I…I don’t know,” he says, eyes reaching Tony’s once more. “I don’t know.”

Tony’s heart is pounding behind the arc reactor in his chest, and the snap, crackle, and pops are getting louder and faster, making the suit vibrate. The electricity in the air is spitting at his face, and the burnt marshmallow smell tastes acrid in his throat. Tony takes a step forward and the air visibly cracks and he knows that’s not fucking good. He watches, morbidly fascinated as the crack starts to splinter away from itself, forming a delicate web of iridescent lines all around him.

Loki’s face is slightly distorted, like looking at an oil painting that’s been allowed to crack over time. For all the distortion though, Tony can still make out the moment where it all clicks somehow in Loki’s head, and he’s looking from Tony to the staff and back, a smile beginning to form on his cracked lips that Tony so does not like, and so Tony’s reverting every ounce of energy left in the suit to thrusters and Loki’s smile is disappearing quickly as Tony closes the gap between them. The instant Tony’s arms wrap themselves around Loki’s shoulders, the air around them shatters and the last thing Tony sees before everything goes black is the sky falling beneath him.

 

______________________________________________________________

 

Tony wakes to the loud buzz of a large group of people murmuring quietly amongst themselves. He opens his eyes and lifts a hand to block his face from the sun beating down on him and Tony realizes he’s missing a gauntlet. And his helmet.

Cursing, Tony pushes himself into a sitting position. He’s not missing any more parts, but the suit is still pretty banged up with scorch marks and long scrapes running down all the front of him he can see. Tony taps the suit’s arc reactor, not surprised when there’s not even a flicker.

“Fuck,” he says as he tries to shake the ringing out of his ears. He uses his hands to push himself to his knees, and yeah there’s definitely some bruised ribs there, and gets shakily to his feet. He looks around him, wondering where the hell he’s landed and where the fuck was Loki, and then for the first time really notices all the people standing around him.

“Um, hi,” he says and wonders briefly, hopefully, if Lok’s little staff trick has dumped him in the middle of some Renaissance fair. Except, okay, not Renaissance, but maybe late Victorian, and isn’t that just so much better?

  “What the bloody hell is going on here?”

Tony wobbles on his feet as the crowd parts to let a group of, what appear to be, police officers through, led by a shorter man in a bowler hat, and then Tony’s hands are up beside his head because the guy in the bowler has his gun drawn and is looking at Tony like he’s just waiting for an excuse.

“Uh, please don’t shoot me?” Tony says, and watches the bowler guy’s head tilt in confusion, just for a moment, before he’s striding up to Tony and the confusion turns into curiosity as bowler guy inspects the suit.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time, haven’t you Holmes?” he asks, and Tony barely has his mouth open before the butt of bowler guy’s gun meets the back of Tony’s head, and he slips into unconsciousness for the second time that day. 

Chapter Text

The Case of the Man in Iron

Ch. 2: Just Follow My Lead

 

If there’s one thing on earth that Sherlock Holmes hates more than a dull case, it’s having no case whatsoever. As he stares into the empty glass tumbler in his hand, Sherlock imagines he can quite literally feel the ever so slow decay of neurons and synapses as his brain cells wither from disuse. One might dare say he’s becoming mediocre in his forced retirement.

And oh, how it was forced. Apparently a man could not let the world believe him dead for a few months without there being certain…consequences upon his reemergence to the world of the living. Oh, Watson had forgiven him, eventually, but their already tumultuous friendship was even more strained than before and there was no question of him ever joining Sherlock on another case again.

“Not that I have any cases,” Sherlock mutters as he pours two more fingers of scotch into his glass. Another consequence of “faking your own goddamn bloody death” was no longer being privy to Scotland Yard cases. Yes, detective inspector Lestrade had made it quite clear to Sherlock that the Queen’s finest had no more need of his consulting services, something about being made fools of and whatnot. As if they needed his assistance with that.

Another thing Sherlock hadn’t foreseen was the fact that, once the world thought you dead, it was quite difficult to make them believe otherwise. Many who hadn’t known Sherlock personally, or as personally as any but a choice few could know him, thought him to be an imposter. Thus, the once dozens of letters he’d been used to receiving asking for his consulting assistance had dwindled considerably to but a scant few and very far between.

Needless to say, Sherlock Holmes is not taking retirement well. 

Sherlock swallows the scotch with one tip of his glass and gets to his feet. He’s about to check Gladstone’s progress (he really should have roused by now, the sedative wasn’t that strong), when he hears the telltale squeak of the second landing floor boards, signaling Mrs. Hudson’s imminent arrival at his door.

 “Ah, Mrs. Hudson,” he says as the landlady opens the door and walks in, tea tray in hand. “Is it tea time already?”

Mrs. Hudson sets the tray on the table, studiously ignoring the unconscious bulldog lying underneath. “A bit early, today, Mr. Holmes,” she says as she pulls a folded card from her pocket. “A messenger just delivered this for you.”

Sherlock takes the card and flips it open, his eyebrows quirking up as words like urgent and Scotland Yard jump out at him. When he’s read it twice he tosses the card aside and claps his hands together, barely able to contain his excitement at the prospect of a new case.

“Ah, dear Nanny,” he says as he searches beneath piles of sundry for his waistcoat, “it seems I’ll be taking tea late today.” He finds his rather rumpled waistcoat beneath a stack of anatomy textbooks and begins to button it as he walks toward the door. “Oh, and do be a dove and keep an eye on Gladstone while I’m away. It’s possible I may have…miscalculated something or other.”

Mrs. Hudson sighs heavily, “You really have killed him this time, haven’t you, Mr. Holmes?”

Sherlock pauses at the door and casts a brief but fond smile toward the sedated dog. “I should certainly hope not. Otherwise I’ll have to find some new…means of testing my formulas.” And with a wink he’s gone, leaving Mrs. Hudson with the sudden resolution to never again share the same pot of tea with Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

 

____________________________________________________________

 

Sherlock is met outside the entrance to Scotland Yard by a very perplexed looking inspector Lestrade and two policemen who can’t seem to take their eyes off him.

“Well, Inspector, here I am as you so urgently requested. How may I be of service to you?” Sherlock continues without letting the other man respond, “Although, why you would be requesting my services is something of a mystery considering the last time we spoke you made it quite clear that Scotland Yard no longer had any need of me.”

Lestrade glares at him. “Yes, well extenuating circumstances and all that.”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow and sweeps Lestrade with a critical eye. “Are we still playing this game? Your handcuffs are missing and there’s red clay on your boots, which means you’ve recently been to Market Town where you only step foot to make an arrest. Your officers keep staring at me as if I’ve been speaking in tongues this entire time. So tell me, inspector, who do you currently have in custody and what connection could they possibly have with me?”

Sherlock smirks as Lestrade’s jaw tightens and he can see the inspector willing himself not to react in any physical way. “There was an incident at Market this morning, and if you could answer a few questions…”

But Sherlock is already moving around him and the two officers are parting to let him through. Sherlock walks into the station and all conversation stops as his presence becomes known. It is a somewhat unnerving phenomenon but Sherlock presses on, especially when he hears a voice coming from the back holding cells.

“Hey, somebody wanna tell me what’s going on?”

American male. Caucasian. Spends time on the east and west coast. Interesting.

As Sherlock makes his way toward the back of the station, the voice becomes louder, clearer.

“What am I, invisible? Rhetorical question, I see you staring at me, Opie.”

Approximately 5’7” to 5’10”. Between 160 and 170 pounds. Mid to late…thirties…

Sherlock knows which cell he needs by the number of officers congregated in front of it, all trying to look busy and not like they’re completely engrossed with whoever’s behind the cell bars.

“Seriously, guys, I’m not gonna bite. I can play nice. That whole thing earlier was an accident. How’s your friend’s nose, by the way? Not broken I—”

Sherlock catches a flash of metallic red as one of the officers shifts to the side, and suddenly he’s forgotten how to walk because he’s staring at himself behind bars in a bizarre suit of armor. The man who looks so much like Sherlock that they could be twins is staring back at him with his eyes and moving his mouth open and closed and it’s decidedly not his voice saying, “Holy shit,” that brings Sherlock back to his senses and his feet are moving again.

With three long strides he’s got his hands wrapped around the iron bars, face mere inches from the other man’s. “Who are you?” he says in a low, harsh whisper.

The man smirks and mimics Sherlock’s low tone. “I don’t suppose the name Iron Man means anything to you. Name’s Tony Stark,” he says as the smirk expands into a grin, “And you must the mysterious Sherlock Holmes.” At Sherlock’s raised eyebrow, Stark continues, “Yeah, they’ve been talking about you all morning around here. Well, after they realized that I wasn’t you.”

Shocked, Sherlock takes a moment to further study the man before him. At such close proximity the similarities between them are even more staggering, right down to the copper flecks in the dark brown irises that Sherlock sees in the mirror every morning and night, now being reflected in the eyes of this man who is him but not.

He is somewhat relieved to note the small differences between them, even if they are superficial. The shorter hair style not yet graying at the temples, the slightly tanned skin developed from spending days under a sun that isn’t constantly overcast by English clouds, the close cropped Van Dyke beard that Sherlock should not find appealing at all, and the small scars, which Sherlock has as well, although in different places and certainly for different reasons.

His attention is caught once again by a flash of metallic red and Sherlock takes a step back to get a better view of the red and gold armor that encases Stark from the neck down. It’s like nothing Sherlock has ever seen and he is fascinated, possibly even more so than by the doppelganger wearing it. His gaze is drawn to the center of the chest piece where a small, circular glass lens seems to be embedded in the metal armor and his fingers itch to reach through the bars of the cell, to touch and examine and understand.

There’s a sharp intake of breath and Sherlock looks up to see Stark, head tilted slightly forward and to the side, staring at him with a look on his face that even Sherlock Holmes can’t quite comprehend.

Stark opens his mouth to speak but a voice behind Sherlock cuts him off. “Well, isn’t this cozy then?” Lestrade shoulders past the officers that have formed a ring of sorts around Sherlock, holding something, was that a helmet? aloft in his hands.

Stark’s face lights up at the sight and presses against the bars. “Hey, that’s mine!”

Lestrade shrugs. “One of the boys caught a peddler trying to hawk it in Market Town.”

“Sweet, gimme,” Stark says, wiggling his ungloved fingers through the bars and Sherlock is suddenly reminded of a child tugging on his father’s trouser leg, begging for a piece of candy or new toy at market. The image is amusing and disquieting all at once and Sherlock quickly banishes it.

Lestrade, however, is in no mood to play the indulgent father and holds the helmet, definitely a helmet, away from Stark’s reaching fingers. “I want some answers first and then, maybe, I’ll let you have this.”

Sherlock watches as Stark steps back from the bars and straightens his back, shoulders squared as all traces of childlike amusement vanish from his face. “You really don’t want to mess with my stuff, dude.”

And maybe it’s the quiet promise in Stark’s voice, Sherlock thinks, or the unmistakable way his feet shift seamlessly into an offensive position, as if he’s about to lunge, crashing through the bars at any moment, that makes Lestrade for once in his career actually stop and observe what’s going on in front of him, because the inspector’s jaw snaps tight and his lips thin into a grim, pensive little line as he regards Stark through the cell bars.

Sherlock’s known Lestrade long enough to know when the man is about to become stubborn and he has too many questions for Tony Stark to let Lestrade throw him in some dark cell for a week until he’s ready to cooperate. Sherlock turns his face to the bars and holds Stark’s eyes with his for one intense moment before he winks and turns towards Lestrade, hands in the air as if in surrender.

“Well, I think this little game has gone on quite long enough,” he says and turns back to Tony as he continues, “Don’t you, cousin Tony?”

There’s half a moment of startled silence before Tony’s eyes catch his and he replies, “Absolutely. Cousin Sherlock. You’re totally right.”

“Hold on now,” Lestrade says, pointing a finger at Sherlock. “You expect me to believe this man is your cousin?”

“Well there is a remarkable family resemblance, don’t you think? The Starks are distant relations from the Americas. Cousin Tony here has just popped down for a nice visit.”

“And what about that thing he’s wearing?” Lestrade demands, clearly not buying into another of Sherlock Holmes’ stories. “Witnesses say he fell out of the bloody sky.”

“Circus folk,” Sherlock gestures dramatically and drops his voice. “Black sheep of the family, never mention them to mother.”

“Circus folk…”

“Indeed. This morning my dear cousin was giving me a demonstration of his act and, well, things didn’t quite go as planned, did they cousin?”

Tony just shakes his head, doing his best to look embarrassed.

Lestrade thrusts the helmet in Sherlock’s direction. “What kind of circus act—”

“Human cannon ball,” Tony blurts, earning him a grin from Sherlock.

“Exactly right. Human cannon ball. The suit is mostly for aesthetic purposes. The act is marvelous really, or would have been, if someone had calibrated the cannon properly,” Sherlock says pointedly.

Tony raises an eyebrow.  “I find that offensive, cousin. As if I don’t know how to calibrate my own cannon.”

“Did you remember to adjust—”

“For North Atlantic wind currents? Uh yeah.”

“Well obviously something—”

“Enough!” Lestrade shouts, shoving the helmet into Sherlock’s hands. He pulls a key ring from his belt and unlocks the cell door, swinging it open. “Mary Mother in Heaven I can’t handle the two of you. Holmes, take your cousin and keep him off my streets for the rest of his visit. And if I hear so much as a peep coming from Baker Street I’ll lock the both of you up. Do you understand me?”

“Absolutely,” Sherlock and Tony say at the same time and Lestrade cringes.

“Out of my station, the both of you.”

“Well,” Sherlock says as he hands Tony the helmet, “shall we?”

Tony hesitates, gesturing to himself. “I’m not exactly dressed in street clothes.”

“And I don’t suppose you can just…”

Tony shakes his head, but grins. “Not here,” he says and Sherlock sees the look return to his face, the look he can’t quite read, “but take me back to your place and I guarantee to blow your mind.”

“I’m not quite sure what that means,” Sherlock says as his lips turn up at the corners, “but I think I would very much like to find out.”

 

Chapter Text

The Case of the Man in Iron

Ch. 3: This is Not the Worst Thing You’ve Caught Me Doing

 

            It takes some maneuvering—and a borrowed overcoat from one of the, er, larger officers of Scotland Yard—but Sherlock and Tony manage to arrive at 221b Baker Street without drawing too many curious stares. Tony can’t help but remember that one time at boarding school when he and his roommate had tried to smuggle a dog into their dorm room. He isn’t sure how he feels about being able to relate to a dog, but whatever, he’s been in the suit for freaking hours and there’s an itch between his shoulder blades that is driving him crazy.

            Speaking of things that are driving Tony crazy, the hansom cab ride from Scotland Yard has been far too quiet for his liking. His mouth isn’t used to running below a mile a minute, especially when something so utterly fascinating is sitting directly in front of him. Tony gets the feeling that Sherlock is having the same dilemma because the man keeps staring at him with awed eyes and slightly parted lips and, okay, maybe Tony is staring too but he’s pretty sure his mouth has stayed closed. Mostly. So when they pull up to what Tony assumes is Sherlock’s home, and Tony is following Sherlock into a small foyer, and they still haven’t said a single word, Tony opens his mouth, not sure what he’s about to say just that he has to say something, it’s Sherlock who breaks the silence, if only to shush Tony before he can speak.

            “I would rather not shock my landlady into a cardiac arrest,” Sherlock says quietly as he leads Tony up the staircase. “Lord knows the woman has enough reasons to evict me as it is.”

            Sherlock opens a door at the top of the stairs, holding Tony back with a raised hand as he steps into the room. He disappears for a moment, leaving Tony to lean awkwardly against the door frame before he returns, ushering Tony inside.

            Tony isn’t sure what he’s been expecting, because really, but he can’t help the not so quiet, “Wow,” as he enters the chaos of Sherlock Holmes’ bedroom…living room…lab? Because that is definitely lab equipment set up on the table in the middle of the room, and he’s pretty sure he’s looking at a bed underneath a pile of clothes and books. His eyes are drawn to another table, scattered with an array of tools and machine parts.

            As he shrugs out of the oversized coat, he turns to find Sherlock watching him intently and all he can say is, “Who the hell are you?”

            Sherlock raises an eyebrow, “I thought we’d covered this, Mr. Stark.”

            “Yeah, I know, Sherlock Holmes, but who are you?”

            “Might we discuss the details a bit later? I seem to recall you promising to ‘blow my mind.’”

            Tony grins as Sherlock crosses his arms expectantly. “You asked for it,” he says as he fits the helmet over his head and locks it in place. The HUD is black, he takes a deep breath. “Jarvis,” he says and prays to God this works, because the suit’s power reserve has never had to be field tested before now. “Initiate Mark V back-up power supply.” 

            For a moment there’s nothing but silence and the sound of his own shallow breathing, but then there’s a flicker across the HUD and the faint whirr of motors coming to life. Tony holds his breath as the HUD flickers once, then twice, one more time and then he’s breathing again as the HUD interface fills the helmet with light. He looks past the screens at Sherlock, taking in the man’s wide eyes and open mouth. Tony knows all he can see are the glowing eyes of the visor, but he’s not done yet.

            “Jarvis, you home, buddy?” he asks. He knows the AI is attempting to connect to the main servers at the Malibu mansion. “Don’t freak out, there’s no server connection. You’re gonna have to rely on the suit’s offline programming.”

            There’s a moment of silence before Jarvis’s cool voice fills his ears. “I find this quite disconcerting, Sir.”

            Tony can’t help but chuckle, “I know, buddy, just bear with me. We’ll figure this out, but right now I need to get out of this suit. Engage retractors and use what’s left of the power reserve to run systems diagnostic. I’ll check back with you later.”

            “Yes, Sir,” Jarvis says. “Do try to stay out of trouble, Sir,” he adds as the suit starts to retract into itself, leaving Tony standing in front of the compact suit-case and a gaping Sherlock Holmes who looks like he’s just had his mind very thoroughly blown.

            Tony holds his arms out to the side, giving Sherlock full view of his Black Sabbath t-shirt and blue jeans, all the way down to his black Doc Martins. “Well?”

            Tony can tell from the look on his face that Sherlock Holmes is not a man that is used to being surprised, much less knocked speechless. Sherlock takes a tentative step forward before pausing. Tony grins as he can actually see the other man collecting himself mentally before closing the distance between them, all hesitance gone from his stride.

            “Amazing,” Sherlock says and they’re standing so close Tony can feel the warm puff of Sherlock’s breath against his mouth. Tony licks his lips and swallows.

            “Me, or the suit?”

            Sherlock tilts his head. “All of it. You, me, your…suit, the very fact that we are even having this discussion.”

            Tony grins. “I don’t think I have to sugar coat things for you. You know I’m not from around here.” He nudges the suit-case with his foot. “There’s no way this technology exists in this time…in this world.”

            He watches Sherlock’s eyes flicker to the case and back. There’s acceptance in those eyes but they’re dimmed with the frustration of not understanding, and Tony thinks, this is where we find out just how alike we really are. Because Tony has a feeling this guy who looks like him, but isn’t him, is really fucking smart, like genius smart, and maybe it’s not the same kind of genius that Tony is, that Banner is, but it’s there, he thinks, he hopes.

            “Mr. Stark,” Sherlock says, lips lifting to match Tony’s grin, “I believe I’m in need of a lesson in…,” his eyes flick to the suit-case once more, “…advanced mechanics?”

            Tony’s sigh turns into a chuckle as he claps Sherlock on the shoulder. “And then-some, Mr. Holmes. Got any scotch? I’m starving, and this is gonna take all fucking day.”

 

_________________________________________________________________________

 

            Holy shit, Tony thinks as he takes a pull from his second—third?—scotch, when I’m wrong I am really fucking wrong, because Sherlock Holmes? Freaking legit genius. They’ve been holed up in Sherlock’s apartment for the last four hours in a scotch fueled explosion of physics, chemistry, and mathematical engineering; and, for a guy playing catch-up to over a hundred years’ worth of scientific breakthroughs, Sherlock is soaking everything up like a freaking sponge. Tony’s just started to wonder if being completely turned on by himself would be considered extreme narcissism or mild incest when Sherlock throws his pencil down and looks up at Tony from his nest on the floor.

            “In theory,” Sherlocks says with a frown, “I understand everything you’ve shown me, because how can I not, when the mathematics all make perfect sense? But at the same time…”

            Tony nods, understanding the frustration in Sherlock’s eyes. “At the same time nothing makes sense because that’s exactly what it is to you, theory, nothing but numbers and variables on a piece of paper.” Tony stands up, voice softening as he fingers the hem of his shirt. “I get it, so let’s bump this lesson up a notch, hmm?” A moment later his shirt is over his head and across the room as Tony sinks to his knees in front of Sherlock, whose eyes are instantly drawn to the glowing arc reactor in the middle of Tony’s chest.

            “I had been wondering,” Sherlocks says as he shifts to his hands and knees, eyes level with the soft blue glow of the arc reactor. He begins to reach a hand out but stops himself, eyes flicking up to meet Tony’s. “May I?” he asks and Tony has to swallow the lump in his throat before nodding.

            Sherlock gently lays his palm against the small circle of glass and metal, intrigued by the warmth that seeps into his skin. “It’s some kind of energy source,” he says with a confidence that makes Tony’s breath hitch.

            “Among other things,” Tony says, resisting the urge to lay his hand over Sherlock’s. “It’s a miniature arc reactor, a um, really powerful battery I guess you could say.”          

Sherlock slides his thumb over the scar tissue along the curved edges where metal meets flesh. “Directly over the heart,” he murmurs, brow creasing as he tilts his head up to look at Tony with questioning eyes.

            In answer, Tony places his fingers along the edges, finds the slight depressions in the metal, and twists, coughing slightly as the seal unlocks and air escapes the metal socket. Sherlock’s eyes go wide as Tony gently pulls the glowing arc reactor out of his chest. He points to the wires running from the back of the arc reactor into the socket. “These wires connect the arc reactor to an electromagnet, which is the only thing keeping a dozen pieces of shrapnel from tearing through my heart and killing me.”

            Sherlock shifts to sit on his knees and, with a nod from Tony, cradles the arc reactor in his palms, turning it slightly from side to side. “Incredible.”

            Tony smiles, and really, he’s used to it, the wonder and awe his tech inspires in people, but somehow this is different. Sherlock’s reaction is…pure. The pure scientific awe of a new discovery. They stay that way for a while, Sherlock kneeling in front of him as Tony explains the science behind the arc reactor, how it functions in his body and in the Iron Man suits. Sherlock looks up from his examination of the arc reactor from time to time to ask Tony a question and Tony has to will himself to breathe evenly. There’s an intensity in Sherlock’s eyes that Tony has never seen before, not directed at him. His tech, yes, but not Tony. Not the man behind the machinery. And when he’s not answering Sherlock’s questions, when he’s just talking and the other man has shifted his focus to the device in his hands, Tony’s eyes rove over every inch of Sherlock he can see from this angle. He starts at the top of his head with his ridiculously soft looking hair that curls ever so slightly and Tony wonders if his hair would look like that if he let it grow out, stopped using styling products. He has to stuff his hands in his jeans pockets to stop himself from touching. His gaze moves down to shoulders a little broader than his own, and to corded forearms revealed by rolled up shirt sleeves. When Sherlock does look up with a question, Tony answers as his eyes flick to the scar on Sherlock’s left cheek and wonders how it got there. Tony’s trying to subtly crane his neck to follow the line of Sherlock’s back when he feels light fingers graze his abdomen and he sucks in a breath.

            “My apologies,” Sherlock says without sounding at all apologetic. Tony purses his lips to keep from grinning as Sherlock brushes his fingers more firmly against his skin. “I was just examining the scar tissue here. It’s roughly the same texture and size as the scars on your chest and face. They’re obviously from combat shrapnel, some kind of explosion given the pattern.” He looks up at Tony then and there’s a new light, a new kind of intensity in his eyes that has Tony leaning in for a deeper look. “But you’re not a soldier,” Sherlock continues. “That much is obvious from your walk and the way you hold yourself. No, given your intellect and what I’ve gathered from your explanations of the, uh, Iron Man suit as you call it, coupled with these scars and the shrapnel you’ve already told me is in your chest, I’d wager you’re some sort of arms dealer.”

            And just like that, Tony can feel his mood shifting as the walls go up one by one. He leans back, gently taking the arc reactor from Sherlock’s hands and twisting it back into place, feeling the jolt of energy and subsequent coconut and metal aftertaste in his mouth.

            “Ex-arms dealer,” he says to Sherlock’s raised brow. “I disbanded the weapons making division in my company when I found out my tech was being sold to the bad guys behind my back.” Tony taps a finger against his chest. “Sold to the same guys who made this a necessity.”

            “I wasn’t judging you, old boy,” Sherlock says as he leans back on his arms. “Merely making observations. Obviously I lack the proper data at present to form a solid deduction on you, Mr. Stark.”

            Tony shifts forward slightly as one hand reaches back to scratch the back of his neck. He assumes his expression is as chagrined as he can muster. At least he can feel some of the walls sliding down again.  “Call me Tony,” he says. “And it’s cool, I’m just…I like to think I’m a better man than I used to be.”

            “Don’t we all,” Sherlock says with a small smile.

            Tony’s response is cut off by a scuffling and a small yelp, followed by a loud bark as a dog scrambles from underneath the table in the middle of the room. Tony and Sherlock turn their heads to follow the dog, still barking as it runs across the floor towards the door. The dog scratches frantically at the door, its barks turning into frantic yelps.

            Sherlock shoots to his feet. “Blasted dog will draw Mrs. Hudson up here. Gladstone, calm yourself,” he says as he pulls the bull dog away from the door. Tony gets up to…do something, he’s not sure. He’s never been good with animals.

            “Is he usually this hyper?” he asks.

            Sherlock shakes his head, trying to corral the dog with his legs. “It must be a side effect of the sedative I administered this morning.”

            “You sedated your dog?”

            “Gladstone is an excellent test subject,” Sherlock says matter of fact. “Although if he doesn’t stop I may have to give him another. Mrs. Hudson will surly—”

            The door suddenly opens as a woman Tony assumes is Sherlock’s landlady walks into the room. “—Finally, Gladstone. I’d thought for sure he’d done for you this time. Where—Oh dear God, no.”

            Gladstone has already made his escape out the door as Tony and Sherlock stand awkwardly next to each other. The woman’s hands are covering her face and she’s breathing heavily. Tony’s about to ask Sherlock if they should do…something…but her hands are slowly coming down, though she still seems to be catching her breath as she just stares at the two of them.

            “Ah, Nanny,” Sherlock says, breaking the silence. “I do believe it’s time for tea.”